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Today, UK coins are of a comparatively small number and range compared to pre-decimal coinage. There are many commemorative and bullion coins, not used for general exchange, but circulating currency coins are restricted to just a few denominations.
Many UK commemorative coins are legal tender but, as with some bullion coins, these valuable coins are worth more than their face value.
Some bullion coins, such as the Sovereign – despite having a face value of £1 – are based on old denominations no longer used.
Any list of UK coins, current and withdrawn, must take account of the major changes that took place with the 1816 Great Recoinage and 1971 Decimalisation.
Great Recoinage of 1816
The Great Recoinage of 1816 was precipitated by United Kingdom's financial debt from the 1803–1815 Napoleonic War. During the war, a shortage of silver and copper had curtailed the striking of new coins.
Paper money, which had become legal in 1797, and token coins were being increasingly used. Tokens were substitutes for legal tender issued by large businesses and banks. In the short-term these were exchangeable for legal tender, and were meant to allow wages to be paid and transactions made, without the need for coins made of expensive metals.
The Coinage Act of 1816 was passed to address this shortage. It took Britain off a silver standard and onto a gold standard. On the gold standard, new gold coins fixed the pound Sterling to the price of gold and not silver. This allowed new silver coins to be minted with a face value greater than that of their precious metal.
After 1816 the value of sterling silver was fixed by minting 66 shillings from a troy pound of the metal. This established the weight of all silver coins, and later cupro-nickel coins until the 1990s, after which smaller coins were introduced.
This scarce Sovereign was the first of the modern generation of Sovereigns, produced by the Royal Mint as part of the Great Recoinage.
The Coinage Act empowered the Bank of England to begin the Great Recoinage programme. The programme created the £1 gold Sovereigns. The UK Sovereign coin was minted from 22 carat gold, and carried the now famous image of St. George & the Dragon by Benedetto Pistrucci. It was intended to replace the gold, twenty-one shilling, Guinea. New silver shillings, half-crowns and crowns were also introduced.
In the six years following the start of the Recoinage, the Royal Mint struck nearly 40 million shillings, 17 million half-crowns and 1.3 million silver crowns. This was achieved with steam-powered minting technology, developed by and supplied by the Birmingham industrialist, Matthew Bolton.
Today, Britain uses a decimal currency system, with one hundred pennies equalling one pound; but before decimalisation day in 1971 there were twelve pence to one shilling, and twelve shillings to a pound. Meaning there were two-hundred and forty old pence to the pound.
The 1971 decimalisation caused public outrage. Confused shoppers could not understand why the 'simple' pounds, shillings and pence was changing to the complex and incomprehensible decimal system!
The new decimal, 1p, penny was smaller and more convenient than the old, 1d, penny. The new decimal coins came in various face values with many new coin designs. This saw the end of many coins denominated in shillings. Some shilling coins, which had exact decimal equivalents, continued to circulate but were gradually replaced.
The one shilling was equal to five new pennies. The two shilling coin – or a florin – equalled ten new pennies. All these coins were gradually withdrawn, ceased to be legal currency, or were replaced by decimal equivalents.
Decimalisation also replaced the old penny coins with new decimal pennies. The old sixpence coin, which was exactly two and half new pennies, was again retained for a short period.
The pound coin, which replaced the one pound bank note, was not part of decimalisation. It was introduced later in 1983.
List of UK coins
Common British coins before the Great Recoinage of 1816:
In approximate date order:
|Coin||Pre-decimal Value (Shillings & Pence)||Decimal Value (Pence)||First Circulation (Circa)||Last Circulation (Circa)||Notes|
|Half Mark||6s 8d||3.33||500||1400|
|Gold Penny||1s 8d to 2s||8.33 to 10||1257||1265|
|Quarter Florin (Helm)||1s 6d||7.5||1344||1344|
|Quarter Noble||1s 8d||8.33||1344||1470|
|Half Florin (Leopard)||3s||1.5||1344||1344|
|Florin (Double Leopard)||6s||3||1344||1344|
|Noble||6s 8d (later 8s 4d)||3.333 (later 4.167)||1344||1464|
|Half Noble||3s 4d to 4s 2d||1.667 to 2.083||1346||1438||Minted but not circulated.|
|Rose Noble (Ryal)||10s (later 15s)||5 (later 7.5)||1464||1470|
|Half Angel||3s 4d (later 5s 6d)||1.667 (later 2.75)||1470||1619|
|Rose Noble (Ryal)||10s (later 15s)||5 (later 7.5)||1487||1487|
|Half Crown||2s 6d||1.25||1526||1969|
|Crown of the Rose||4s 6d||22.5||1526||1551|
|Silver Threepence||3d||0.83||1547||1945||Including Maundy Money|
|Rose Noble (Ryal)||10s (later 15s)||5 (later 7.5)||1553||1603|
|Three Halfpence||1 1/2d||0.63||1561||1870||With breaks in minting.|
|Carolus||20s (later 23s)||100 (later 115)||1625||1649|
|Two Guinea||40s (later 42s)||200 (later 210)||1664||1753|
|Silver Twopence||2d||0.83||1668||2019||Including Maundy Money.|
|Five Guineas||100s (later 105s)||500 (later 510)||1668||1753|
Coins between the Great Recoinage and Decimalisation:
|Coin||Pre-decimal Value (Pence)||Decimal Value (Pence)||First Circulation (Circa)||Last Circulation (Circa)|
|Florin (Two Shillings)||2s||10||1848||1970|
Coins After Decimalisation:
|Coin||Face Value||First Circulation (Circa)||Last Circulation (Circa)||Notes|
|Five Pence||5p||1971||1990||Direct replacement for the One Shilling coin.|
|Five Pence||5p||1990||Current||Smaller than the One Shilling coin.|
|Six Pence||6p||2016||Current||Commemorative coin.|
|Ten Pence (Florin)||10p||1971||1992||Direct replacement for the Florin.|
|Ten Pence||10p||1971||Current||Smaller than the pre-decimal Florin.|
|25p||1972||1981||A commemorative (Crown) coin.|
|Fifty Pence||50p||1997||Current||Smaller than the first 50p coin.|
|Round One Pound||£1.00||1983||2017|
|Twelve-sided One Pound||£1.00||2017||Current|
|Two Pounds||£2.00||1986||Current||Commemorative issue.|
|Two Pounds||£2.00||1998||Current||General circulation.|
|Five Pounds||£5.00||1990||Current||Replacement for the commemorative 25p Crown.|
|Gold Britannia||£100.00||1987||Current||Bullion coin.|
|Silver Britannia||£2.00||1997||Current||Bullion coin.|
|Twenty Pounds||£20.00||2013||Current||Commemorative coin.|
|Fifty Pounds||£50.00||2015||Current||Commemorative coin.|
|One Hundred Pounds||
|2015||Current||Commemorative & Bullion coin.|